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World Athletics Championships Oregon22

Previews17 Jan 2020

Weekend road preview: Lagat and Alemu back to defend Mumbai titles, Degefa gunning for fourth Houston win


Cosmas Lagat wins the Mumbai Marathon (© Procam International)

There are three World Athletics Label races on the schedule this weekend: the Tata Mumbai Marathon, the Aramco Houston Half Marathon and the Chevron Houston Marathon.

Defending champions Lagat and Alemu ready to battle at Mumbai Marathon

Defending champions Cosmas Lagat and Worknesh Alemu both proclaimed themselves fit and ready to not only bid for back-to-back titles at the Tata Mumbai Marathon, but the pair also aim to attack the course records on Sunday (19). 

Kenya’s Lagat won at this World Athletics Gold Label road race 12 months ago in decisive fashion when he broke away from the rest of the leading pack around 29 kilometres into the race.

He raced twice more in 2019 but injuries in the middle of the year derailed his hopes of building on his success in the City of Dreams last January.

“I had injuries to my left calf and Achilles tendon. It happens in training sometimes,” he reflected stoically, demonstrating where his problems were at the traditional pre-race press conference on Friday.

“However, I am back in good training now and I think all is well. I train with Lawrence Cherono, who was the winner of the Boston and Chicago Marathons last year, and I do the same training as him so I think I can perform as well as him.

“Running here last year and doing so well has given me confidence that I can win again, and I am thinking about the course record. I have learnt how to run this race better,” added Lagat.

Last year, Lagat crossed the line in 2:09:15, the second fastest time in race history and just 40 seconds outside the course record of 2:08:35 set by his compatriot Gideon Kipketer in 2016. The race has a first prize cheque of US$45,000 for both men and women with a US$15,000 bonus on offer for a course record.

Lagat will be aiming to become just the second man to win back-to-back titles in the race’s 17-year history, following in the footsteps of fellow Kenyan John Kelai who won in 2007 and 2008.


Cosmas Lagat, Amane Beriso, Ayele Abshero and Worknesh Alemu ahead of the 2020 Mumbai Marathon


Race organisers have signed up 15 men who have run faster than 2:10:00, making the TMM 2020 the highest quality marathon ever staged in India.

Like Lagat, Ethiopia’s Alemu upset the form book in Mumbai 12 months ago and won in what was then a personal best of 2:25:25, which was also the second fastest winning time in race history.

She showed her win was no fluke when she improved her best to 2:24:42 later in 2019 at the Amsterdam Marathon in October so this time around her role has changed from underdog to favourite.

“I have had good races in 2019 so my confidence is strong. It is a tough field, but I am in good shape. If I do well here, it could set me on the road to representing my country at the Olympics in Tokyo. Why not?” said Alemu, all smiles and looking relaxed in front of a rapt audience. 

Alemu heads a very strong women’s field that has eight women who have run under 2:28:00.

The fastest women in the field is another Ethiopian, Amane Beriso, who had a stunning marathon debut when she ran 2:20:48 for second place in the 2016 Dubai Marathon, which placed her third on that year’s world list. However, a variety of injuries mean that she has not raced in 15 months.

All the leading women will have as their target the course record of 2:24:33 set by Kenya’s Valentine Kipketer in 2013.

Approximately 55,000 runners will take to the roads in Mumbai for six different races in what has become a traditional annual event in the city on the third Sunday of January.

Entries for the marathon itself are just under 10,000 runners which means that the anticipated number of finishers in the race will have more-or-less doubled in the last five years.

A similar upward trajectory can be seen in the half marathon which has more than 15,000 entries, with an expected increase in finishers which will have increased by approximately 20% in just two years.

Phil Minshull (organisers) for World Athletics

Degefa gunning for fourth Houston Marathon title

Defending champion Biruktayit Degefa will be gunning for a fourth victory at the Chevron Houston Marathon on Sunday (19), a first for the World Athletics Gold Label road race if the Ethiopian manages to pull off the feat.

The 29-year-old clocked 2:23:28 to win here a year ago, at the time a personal best. She went faster in Toronto last October, clocking 2:22:40 to finish second. Degefa apparently likes the Houston course; five of her sixth fastest performances were set in the Texan city.

She'll face sub-2:25 runners Merachi Askale and Wote Genemo Shuko, her Ethiopian compatriots who have 2:24:13 and 2:24:28 personal bests. Tsega Mulahabt has clocked 2:25:48, and should also be a factor.


Biruktayit Degefa wins the Houston Marathon


The fastest man on the start line is Hassan El Abbassi of Bahrain, the Asian record holder at 2:04:43. He finished ninth at the World Championships in October.

He'll face Ethiopian Woldaregay Kelkile Gezahegn, who has a 2:05:56 career best, and sub-2:08 men John Langat of Kenya (2:07:11) and Bahrain's Benson Seurei (2:07:37).

The Aramco Houston Half Marathon, another Gold Label road race contested on the same day, features another defending champion: Shura Kitata of Ethiopia, who sports a 59:16 lifetime best.

But he'll face three men who have gone faster, headed by Ethiopian record-holder Jemal Yimer Mekonnen, who's clocked 58:33. Only three men have ever covered the distance faster.

Leading Kenyan hopes will be Bernard Kipkorir Ngeno, who's clocked 59:07. Jake Robertson, the 2018 champion, also returns.

Kenya's Caroline Kipkirui, the sixth fastest woman of all-time at 1:05:07, leads the women's field. The 25-year-old produced that sizzling mark in Ras Al Khaimah nearly two years ago but was nearly as fast in Prague where she clocked 1:05:44 to take the win.

She'll face Ethiopian star Gelete Burka, a 1500m and 3000m standout a decade ago who has adapted well to the roads. She won the Paris Marathon in 2:22:47 last April and more recently finished third in Chicago in October clocking 2:20:55. The 33-year-old's half marathon best is 1:06:11. 

Others to watch include sub-1:07 runners Dorcus Jepchirchir (1:06:33) of Kenya and Ruti Aga (1:06:39) of Ethiopia, the 2018 winner.

Bob Ramsak for World Athletics